Today I’m sharing an interview with Christian Piatt, author of postChristian: What’s Left? Can We Fix It? Do We Care?, a new book which is described by Jericho Books as exposing the Church’s biggest “scandals” and “virtues” with bold new vision for Christianity’s future in a “post-Christian” World. Before we get to the questions and answers, let me share more of what the publisher says about the book.
As thousands walk away from the church, everyone is wondering: will faith survive the 21st century? Some see the end of morality, others a fitting demise to an oppressive institution. What is clear—is that Christianity as we know it is coming to an end.
In postChristian: What’s Left? Can We Fix It? Do We Care? (Jericho Books/Hachette Book Group, $20.00 hardcover, August 12, 2014) spiritual trailblazer Christian Piatt demonstrates how this modern, “post-Christian” era is actually an opportunity to remake Christianity in Jesus’s image.
Fearless and provocative, postChristian offers a roadmap to the future of faith, beginning with an unflinching examination of the church today. Piatt examines the “seven scandals of Christianity”: pride, certainty, lust, greed, judgment, fear, and envy. Piatt writes that these vices have made Christianity “responsible for, or at least complicit in, some of the worst atrocities in history.” But he doesn’t advocate abandoning religion altogether, as he equally examines Christianity’s seven virtues—humility, faith, love, charity, mercy, courage, and justice. He writes, “There are few, if any, other places in our world that place such emphasis and value on interdependence, story, unity, hope, justice, and radical, selfless love.”
Piatt argues that faith can survive if Christians are willing to be more genuine, and less legalistic. “There is a movement taking place in which followers of Christ lean less on propositional, rhetorical claims of faith and public rituals, opting instead to focus on the daily walk, replicating in acts both great and small the life and teachings of Jesus.”
Bold and insightful, postChristian dares Christians to break out of the box and invites outsiders into the fold as together they revolutionize faith for a postmodern world.
Here is what Christian has to say about his book:
What does it mean to live in the “postChristian” age? Are we living in that age now?
We’re in the middle of a cultural shift toward postChristianity. And by this, I don’t mean that people are turning their back on faith all together as much as we’re witnessing the decline of religious Christian dominance in the public sphere. And in so much as that cultural dominance has caused us to stray from our mission of humble service to the world, it may be a great opportunity for the Gospel to be reborn in our midst.
- Are you for or against “the Church” or Christianity as a religion?
There was a great line in a TV show recently called “Halt and Catch Fire.” In it, this computer company was trying to create a smaller, faster, cheaper PC. But the whole team kept getting so caught up in the specifics of the machine itself that they began to lose focus on why the computer mattered in the first place, which was to revolutionize people’s lives.
“It’s not the thing,” their leader reminded them. “It’s the thing that gets us to the thing.” That’s how I feel about religion for the most part. We’ve gotten so caught up in preserving our traditions, our institutions and the influence and identity that come with them, that we’ve lost sight of what really matters sometimes. Religion is not the thing; it’s the thing that gets us closer to realizing God’s kingdom-vision for the world, here and now, right in our midst.
- In your opinion, what is the worst “scandal” of Christianity? What is its best “virtue?”
For me, the greatest scandal of Christianity is certainty. We have done more damage in the spirit of being certain about what we think or believe than anything else. If we’re absolutely sure what we believe is the one and only way things are, then we can easily justify all manner of terrible things to get people in line with us. But faith, by definition, is not certain. It is always tempered with questions, with doubt, and should always be approached with a sense of mystery and humility.
As for virtues, love certainly stands front and center in the Christian faith. We misunderstand love oftentimes, and we are especially prone to place our love in the wrong places (love of religion, ideology, doctrine, etc.) rather than in God. Love is incredibly powerful, and it should be treated with great care and respect. It’s a tool that can be used for good or bad, which is why Jesus described himself as a sword, cutting loose all of those ties that bind us to loving the wrong things more than God.
- What trends have you seen in American Christianity and church attendance in the last ten years? Why are these trends significant?
It’s all in decline, across the board. No denomination or type of church is exempt. This is significant because it should serve as a wake-up call. It’s partly due to societal shifts in where we live, work, and what we value, but it’s also the result of a credibility crisis that’s been a long time coming for Christianity. A lot more churches will close, denominations will consolidate or disappear, jobs will evaporate…but if it helps us let go of the things that have taken us away from our true mission as Jesus followers, I say we should welcome it as a sort of Refiner’s Fire.
- How have Christians or Christianity “fallen short” of Jesus’s message?
First of all, we’re human. We’re never going to measure up to his example. It’s something we work toward, but can’t entirely achieve. That said, we could be much more Christ-like than we tend to be. Consider any survey of people’s opinions about God, Jesus and what they think of Christians. The discrepancies are chilling, and they point to where we need to do our work, not in converting people over to “our side,” but in being as close to that example of what Jesus was in our daily lives.
- Non-Christian people may see the decline in American Christianity as a good thing. Do you agree?
As I mention above, the decline can help us reprioritize. That’s a good thing. I also believe that the decline in socio-political influence is a positive, because the collusion between systems of government and the Church have been disastrous on far too many occasions. That’s really a decline of Christendom, or the drawing back of Christian hegemony. And it needs to happen too.
- All religions have flaws. Why are Christianity’s flaws significant? Why bother pointing them out?
Because we’ve been the biggest kids on the block for a long time, especially in the United States. With such power and influence comes great responsibility. Sure, other religions and even non-religious systems have their issues too, but as a Christian, I believe one of my callings in life is to call the system within which I live, and that I know well, to account.
- Where do you see Christianity going in the next ten years?
Numbers will continue to decrease, but Christianity has a chance to become more nimble, adaptable and less beholden to old institutional systems. I think it will become more self-aware, more mindful about what its mission and impact are in the world, as it will no longer just be a given. We’ll have to earn our voice, or place at the table, not because we dominate anymore, but because we have something of value to offer, including to those who don’t think or believe like us.
- What is the number one thing you hope readers take away from your book?
I hope that they will see an opportunity in the midst of the mess. Jesus predicted the fall of the temple, but not the end of faith. Temples fall, after all. We were never called to erect the longest-lasting buildings or to take over political and social systems, molding them to our liking by force. Jesus was attractive to people, not because he forced or scared them into coming to him. He was compelling; there was something fundamentally true about how he lived, who he was. We can be that in the world. We don’t even really have to say that much. If we live it, people will recognize it, and will be drawn to it.
CHRISTIAN PIATT is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. Piatt has been featured on NPR’s Morning Edition, The Washington Post, Huffington Post, and Sojourners. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004. Christian is the creator and editor of the Banned Questions book series, including Banned Questions About the Bible and Banned Questions About Jesus. He co-created and co-edited the WTF: Where’s the Faith? young adult series with Chalice Press, and is the author of PregMANcy: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.
NOTE: In the interest of full disclosure, Christian is also my son.
Christian definitely gives his readers a lot to think about. Even if you don’t agree with him, he will cause you to examine what you do believe and why. Although I was privileged to read some of the earlier drafts of the book, I plan to read the final version and write a review in the near future. In it you may see some of the tension that exists between my evangelical roots and Christian’s less conservative beliefs. It should be fun!